January & February 2010: In Brief, Part 3

TV- Top Favorites of Both Months (In A,B,C Order)
Castle–  I liked how the pivotal episode about Beckett’s mom’s case gave some answers and satisfaction and then opened up even more questions.  The way the revelations affected Beckett’s and Castle’s relationship had just the right amount of togetherness and understanding without moving things too fast.

Doctor Who Specials–  Before the final doctor 10 special episodes I was really sad about David Tennant and Russell Davies leaving. After watching that over-the-top good-bye, I’m more open-minded about Matt Smith playing the 11th Doctor and Steven Moffat writing the show. Maybe THAT was the point of those specials.  Makes more sense than what happened.

Dollhouse – Don’t you love it when a show is given enough cancellation notice to write a tense and satisfying ending?

Farscape –  I enjoyed watching the Olympic pair’s figure skating and a few random skiing events before the non-stop commentary got to me.  Then I just wanted to watch a good tense story. This sci-fi series from 1999–now available on Netflix instant–was just what I needed to fill the gap left by all my shows on February Olympic reruns.

Farscape is kind of like a cross between a Star Trek franchise show and Firefly.  Astronaut John Crichton is piloting an experimental space shuttle mission when his ship is swept through a wormhole into another galaxy and pulled aboard a living ship in the middle of a mutiny by its political prisoners. It takes 4-5 episodes for the series to find its way, but once it does it’s a fun series to watch. [Watched season 1 on Netflix Instant. Season 1-3 are available on Netflix Instant]

Fringe– I love the way the Walter’s, Peter’s, and Olivia’s pasts have slowly been revealed.  It’s a testament to the writing and acting that I don’t hate one of them now that I know more.  Instead the winter "finale" just left me feeling brokenhearted, yet wanting more. 

The Good Wife –  continues to adeptly weave its season arc story throughout each case of the week.  I’m loving Kalinda in all this too.

January & February 2010: In Brief, Part 2

10 Things I Hate About You (***) – [1998]  I rewatched this because it was available on Netflix instant and I was in the mood for something fun and light. [Netflix Instant]

Breaking Away (****) – [1979] Cycling enthusiast Dave Stohler and his three best friends have no idea what they should do with their lives now that they’ve graduated high school. The local stone cutting work their fathers did has dried up but they aren’t sure they fit into the new university world of  Bloomington, Indiana either. 

This had been on my mental list of movies to see since I was in junior high school, when my mom and several other people told me I’d love this movie.  Yeah, it was adorable and I loved it.  Also neat to see Dennis Quaid so young and skinny. [saw on DVD from Netfilx]

The Edukators (*** 1/2) – [2005] In this German film, a group that call themselves "The Educators" break into houses of the rich, rearrange their things, taking nothing, and leave only a note that warns the rich they won’t have their wealth for long. Things get more serious when one of the group leaves her cell phone at a house they hit.  Now the group must decide how to save themselves and their mission and whether or not they can really do both.  I enjoyed the interaction between all the characters in this film and their longing to live their beliefs. [Parent Note: There is a bit of a vague sex scene and a bit of violence.]  [Netflix Instant]

El Juego de la Verdad (***) – [2004] A light Spanish film about two couples whose lives are changed when one of the group is unknowingly misdiagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given only 3 months to live.  During a truth-or-dare type game, Ernesto announces that his dying wish is to sleep with his friend’s girlfriend, who he is secretly in love with.  Despite the setup, this movie was very PG-rated and tame for a European film.  There was nothing really special about the story but it was a fun way to practice my Spanish. [Netflix Instant]

Sin Nombre (*** 1/2) – [2009] In this Mexican film, three young people — living harsh lives in Central America–  are changed forever by a robbery on the top of a train headed for the U.S. 12-year old Smiley is recruited into a Mexican gang by his teen-aged friend Casper.  Teen-aged Sayra is traveling with her uncle and her recently deported father to the new family her father was forced to leave in New Jersey.  This is a straightforward depiction of both gang life in Mexico and the difficult journey many make to start a new life across the border in the U.S. It’s an eye-opening view into a world I knew little about. [Parent Note: Good film for older teens. Though be prepared for a good deal of graphic violence, some of it sexual.] [Netflix Instant]

Show Me Love (***) [1998] A sweet low budget Swedish film about two teen girls living in a small town.  Brainy shy Agnes has a crush on the most popular girl in the school.  Beautiful popular Elin is bored and afraid she’s going to end up like her mother, trapped in this small town raising two children alone.  When Agnes’ parents encourage her to invite kids from school to her birthday party, Elin decides to show up as a joke and things turn out differently than either girl has planned. It was interesting to see how similar small-town life in Sweden seems compared to the US.  [Netflix Instant Viewing]

Speak (*** 1/2) – [2004] Ninth grade Melinda starts out high school with a reputation as the nark who called the cops on a popular summer party. Everyone in her life is preoccupied. Her friends are upset about  siblings who got arrested at the party, her unemployed dad is looking for work, and her overworked mother trying to support the family.  So no one notices that Melinda has virtually stopped talking in response to something that happened at that party.

Speak is one of my favorite YA books, so I was pleased that the movie was just as good as the book it’s based on. Kristen Stewart — just 14 at the time and pre-Twilight– does a fabulous job of showing Melinda’s pain and journey of healing though mostly facial expressions and body language.  I especially liked how realistic high school was portrayed in this movie.  [Watched on DVD through Netflix]

Sequins (***) – [2004]  A slice-of-life French film about a 17-year old girl who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s five months pregnant. When she hears the local seamstress’s son was killed in an accident, she decides to take a chance at a job she’s uniquely qualified for. The two women slowly start bonding as they both adapt to the changes in their lives. [Netflix Instant]

Toi et Moi (*** 1/2) – [2006] For some reason I really liked this simple chick-lit romance film.  There’s not a lot to this story about two sisters who are with the wrong men.  One of the sisters works for a romance magazine and one is a cellist. The classical music and their simple French lifestyles appealed to me though. [Netflix Instant]

January & February 2010: In Brief, Part 1

Quote of the Month:

"There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." Edith Wharton

Sinus and Poison and Snow!  Oh my!  Fresh off my victory of passing a new kidney stone without medical intervention– Ding Dong the Stone is Gone! — I set off on my own yellow brick road in search of productivity.  I had plans for rewriting my middle grade novel  and a schedule for organizing the house.  The first two weeks of January I skipped along the path of novel drafting and danced down the trail of organizing, feeling the thrill of productivity.

Then came the obstacles.  dun dun DUN.  A sinus infection flooded my brain with mucus and drained all my energy. I did several daily nasal irrigations, took antibiotics, and downed painkillers in hopes of defeating the infection.

Though we’d done all kinds of fixing and cleaning to the house, I started having acute allergic reactions again, along with the sinus infection. Did you know a bunch of Tylenol and Motrin was recalled because of some kind of mold-like chemical taint that caused people to feel nauseous?  I was standing in line at the pharmacy buying extra Benadryl when I saw the recall notice and realized I was probably allergic to this chemical. At home I checked the lot numbers– and sure enough–my painkillers were tainted.  Once I stopped taking the tainted drugs, my allergy attacks stopped.  Thank you recall signs. Come back consumer protection!  I miss you.

"Snowmageddon"–the sequel of our December "snowpocalypse"– dumped 27 inches of pretty winter road obstacles on DC, shutting down the schools and the federal government.  I surrendered to being sick and snowed in and distracted myself by watching movies and hanging out with my family.  When "snowmageddon 2" dumped another 10 inches on us, I figured I’d worry about getting things done after the snow.

The icicles are gone now, the snow’s melting, and the kids are back in school.  My favorite doctor started me on a new course of antibiotics and made me a color-coded sinusitis treatment plan. I’m back on the path to productivity.  Hope I make it this time!

Sub Jobs:

Fiction Books Finished:
Fire, by Kristin Cashore (****1/2)- Seventeen-year old Fire is the last of the human monsters living in the land of the Dells. Her tantalizing beauty and her ability to read and persuade weak minds keeps her from living a normal life. It doesn’t help that the former King and her monster father– a close aide to the king– practically destroyed the Dells with their pillaging and plundering.  Now the Dells are on the brink of war and the royal family asks for Fire’s help. 

This prequel to Graceling starts off slow, as the real action doesn’t begin until over a 100 pages into the story.  Once the story was got interesting though, I enjoyed the mix of royal soap opera, spy intrigue, romance, and action-adventure tale.  [YA fiction, for ages 13 and up]

Gregor and the Marks of Secret, by Suzanne Collins (***1/2) – I enjoyed the fourth Underlander book.  While it’s a good, tense cautionary story about the start of war, it is very dark for a book geared toward elementary schoolers– so not for the extremely sensitive. [For ages 10 and up. Parent Note: There are some fairly intense descriptions of genocide seen from afar.]

Non-FIction Books Finished:
The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau (***) – 1970’s Washington Post reporter, Joel Garreau, writes about his observations on North America.  His basic theory is that North America is a composite of nine different cultural and financial nations: New England, the Foundry, Dixie, the Islands, Mexamerica, Ecotopia, the Empty Quarter, the Breadbasket, and Quebec. He describes Washington D.C., Manhattan, Hawaii, and Alaska as aberrations.

Since this book is 30 years old some of it is dated.  In the discussion on the Foundry, for example, Garreau describes the 100-dollar row house sale in Baltimore as a project that is just getting started.  Still, the basic concept of each region and its description hold up surprising well after 30 years and make for an interesting read. [Adult Non-Fiction, published in 1980]